dimanche 17 mai 2015

Le Villaret - Aging Well

Last Thursday evening, on the heels of a spontaneous and ill-chosen dinner at Chez Clement on the Champs Elysee (enough said), Co.and I directed some family to a monumental step up to one of my old Paris favorites, Le Villaret, a serious, comfortable, always-filled bistrot that veritably defines the term 'Paris bistrot.'  Hell, Le Villaret has been high on my list since not long after my arrival in France about 20 years ago, and it just keeps getting better with age. . .although I'm not sure I'd be willing to make that bold statement about yours truly. 

Not from the night we were there, but Villaret is always filled.
True, there was a few-years lull when Co. and I turned our attention elsewhere, a bit put off by Villaret's rather pricey ala carte menu.  Problem now solved - Villaret offers one of the best menu degustation deals in town, with its 55€ six-course dinner, accompanied by a mise-en-bouche (a  tasty spinach cream) and a plate of patisseries along with the cafe (4€).  And with quantity comes distinct quality, each dish delicately prepared with fresh ingredients and panache.  A couple years ago, Villaret's owners spiced up the interior, which now is still cozy but more refined, with less of the Swiss chalet look, and more glimpses of the superb wine selection.  Along with pricier bottles, Villaret now offers some very affordable options, including an excellent Cabardes Cazaban (30€).  Some highlights from the meal follow below.  What is missing is the initial entree, a seasonal asperge consomme, and a penultimate dessert consisting of some sort of coconut concoction and passion fruit.

Sardines - not my favorite - but this dish was excellent.

Sandre pierre and leeks

Pigeon and large peas - again, a dish that typically isn't one of my top choices, but this one was more than fine.

White chocolate and other goodies inside, accompanied by pina colada ice.

The upshot - an excellent meal, each dish adding to the overall Gestalt in a way that really made sense.  When you can say that about a meal that includes a couple of dishes that you may typically shy away from, you get what Villaret is all about.  And when their menu includes items you actually like, well then it doesn't get much better than that.

13 rue Ternaux
75011 Paris
tel: 01 43 57 75 56

reserve at least a week in advance.

Interesting wall adornment in the Oberkampf area nearby

dimanche 10 mai 2015

Les Deserteurs - Ex-Rino Rises to the Top

A superb Friday dinner in May with NJ-->TX-->Paris friends at the once Rino restaurant in the 11th - quite simply, there is little not to like about Les Deserteurs.  Just don't make the mistake I did and keep your phone off the day of your reservation - space is limited at Les Deserteurs and demand is high, so if they can't get in touch with you during the day to get a confirmation, the folks who run the venue will be very distressed.  Fortunately, an hour and a half before show time, I did confirm. I learned our table was held, but they were obliged to schedule a second serving just in case at 10 pm.  Completely understandable, and I appreciated how they handled the situation.  Everyone was gracious when we arrived, and the servers were attentive, informative, and willing to switch between French and English throughout the evening.  The four of us were seated in one of the few tables in the front room across from the open kitchen, which was fine with me - in the center of the action, but still remote enough from other diners to be able to maintain our conversations unimpeded by neighbors breathing down our necks.

Photo taken off Google images so you get the idea
As is often the case at the neo-bistrots of Les Deserteurs' ilk, the menu was fixed and short-term.  Diners have the choice of a 6 plate (60€) or 4 plate (45€) dinner, and here's the cool part - not everyone at the table need partake of the same option.  We went with three of the former and one of the latter, along with two bottles of a very satisfying Rioja at 35€ a bottle.  The bill was boosted by a whopping 30€ supplement for the beef special of the day dish, which by obligation, must be shared by two diners.  Okay, I hope all that is clear - it adds up to a total cost of 325€ for four, and given the quality of the meal, it was worth every cent.  Below, you'll find the carte and accompanying photos of the dishes, although I think that should be pretty obvious if you just scroll down.

If you click on the photo it will enlarge and be perfectly readable

This would be the rhubarb,

Impressive rendering of an asparagus spear from Corsica

This unimposing piece of lotte was undoubtedly the best dish I've had all year

Not a very flattering shot of the beef, but the Texas pros at the table swore it was epic

Lemon in all its states - one or two of the states might have been missing, but the important ones were there

This dish almost seemed superfluous after all the gorging, but it merited greater attention than we gave it

There you have it - fine dining in all its states.  I enjoyed Rino, the two or three times I ate there.  The kitchen was competent and creative, but never really memorable.  Its replacement, Les Deserteurs, merits high praise for a memorable meal.  As it turned out, the confirmation snafu had little impact on our table lingering - by well past 10 pm, I asked our host why we hadn't been kicked out yet and he explained that he used some 'magique' to avoid that unpleasant possibility (he seated the second serving at another table that was vacated earlier).

Why the name?  Apparently, the team behind Les Deserteurs - led by Daniel Baratier (chef) and Alexandre Céret (sommelier) - deserted Le Sergent Recruteur to strike out on their own.

46 Rue Trousseau
75011 Paris
tel: 01 48 06 95 85

Reserve at least 3 weeks in advance and, by all means, confirm the day of your reservation.

Graffito around the corner from Les Deserteurs
Anything to add?  Click Enregistrer un commentaire below.

samedi 21 mars 2015

Fallen From Grace - La Gazzetta and Manger

La Gazzetta - the ship has sailed
Sad to say that two perennial Paris favorites have fallen from the pedestal - La Gazzetta and Manger.  A late February visit to the former left me and Co. ruing the imaginative menus of the departed chef Petter Nilsson.  New kitchen head Luigi Nastri shows a competence we would expect from an Italian chef who previously served as Nilsson's second in command, but not much more.  Our meal, comprised of 2 menus trattoria, was fine, but hardly at the level that we remembered much of it the following day, a bad sign.  If I'm going to shell out 115 euros for a meal in one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, I expect to be a lot happier from the experience, but alas, La Gazzetta can now be considered an above average Italian restaurant in Paris, but no longer a special one.  It's now off our list of 'must returns'.

29, rue de Cotte
75012 Paris
tel. 01 43 47 47 05

If La Gazzetta was a disappointment, Manger was a disaster.  Co and I hit this spot in the 11th, our definitive restaurant stomping grounds, back in June 2014, less than a year ago, but it might have been 20 years ago.  Not long after its opening, we had a memorable dining experience - sophisticated decor and clientele, affordable imaginative dishes with some real culinary surprises.  Less than ten months later, it's clear that Manger has experienced a precipitous fall.  I've got to hand it to them, though, they still pack them in.  The large space was filled this past Friday night, with plenty of second servings as the evening slogged on.

I didn't exactly do a systematic survey, but I would conclude that the clientele is now younger and less demanding when it comes to what they are eating.  The young couple at the table next to us spent more time playing on their smartphones than paying attention to their dinner.  My dishes were pretty decent - a Barbue en escabeche entree (marinated fish with a slight herring taste in a creamy white sauce), followed by a nicely prepared square of lotte with a tasty sliced cabbage amply spiced with fennel.  Co's selections, however, were uninspired - a corn mishmash with tiny specks of chorizo ('royale de mais) and a caramelized duck dish with pistachios ('canard de barbarie).  I was pretty upset when Co. selected the duck because that was the one I would have taken (what fun if everyone eats the same dishes?).  The best word to describe the duck dish is bland.  The desserts - a tarte au citron and parfait glace chocolat - were completely forgettable - 'well, we have to serve them dessert, see if you can thaw out a couple of them there supermarket purchases'.   With it's widely open kitchen, I diligently watched the three chefs preparing the dishes - it looked like they were playing paint by the numbers, reminiscent of a cooking class I took a couple years ago.  Their apparent lack of enthusiasm was evident in the dishes.

I usually don't dwell much here on the waitstaff in Paris restaurants because, regardless of the recent Wall Street Journal bullshit article about 'the notoriously arrogant French waiter,' I generally find the Parisian servers I encounter to be competent, unobtrusive, and helpful.  Maybe it's just me.  But the two waitresses gamely working the large dining room during our visit left quite a bit to be desired.  With a look bordering on 'washed-out junkie goth', they were generally uninformed and indiscreet.  Two bites into the boring desserts, we were accosted as to our desire for an end of meal cafe.  Okay, that's not exactly a cataclysmic faux pas, but there were a few other uncomfortable incidents I'd rather not elaborate on.  Noting our displeasure, we were offered a couple of complimentary digestifs, and upon leaving it was like we were lifelong buddies, or not.  I really can't explain Manger's apparent popularity - I suggest that your best bet is to move along.

24, rue Keller
75011 Paris
01 43 38 69 15
website - useless

To end this downer of an installment on a more upbeat note,
I should add that Co. and I have had two excellent meals in the past month - a return visit to Will and one of my old favorites, Villaret.  I promise to elaborate soon.

mercredi 31 décembre 2014

Catching Up Before the Ball Drops - Gaigne, L'Ilot, Magnolias, 52, Will, Enfants Perdus, etc.

When you fall this far behind, catching up is more or less impossible, especially in the 6 hours or so hours before 2014 turns into 2015.  Nonetheless, always up to a challenge, I will give it a shot so that later I will begin downing many shots.  I'll be brief for the former, but probably not the latter, which I no doubt will regret on new year's day. 

What the hell have I been doing since Halloween night, my last post?  Glad you asked.

  • Bad news, good news:  Co. and I were really, really sorry that LE GAIGNE had left the Paris restaurant scene a couple years ago, although they left with the promise that they would return in a bigger, better venue.  Surprisingly, that promise was kept when the Beaubourg area mainstay reopened not far from the Gare St. Lazare.  It's bigger and better, though not necessarily better.  Everything has a more upscale feel about it than was true of Gaigne I.  I loved how we were all crammed into the original little spot on a blustery Friday night - great food, great atmosphere.  When Co. and I showed up on a Friday night a month or so ago, the restaurant was big and largely empty.  The food was maybe a notch or two better, the waiters accommodating and friendly, explaining in extremely convoluted terms how owners merged (business-wise, not what you're thinking), and a  5- course menu degustation that lived up to it's, as mentioned, elevated price (65€).  With a Cotes de Beaune thrown in at 34€, the meal for two came to 168€, taking us over the PRAB average.  Although close to the train station, Gaigne is unfortunately hidden away on a side street.  I hope they survive, though the empty tables during our visit were a bad sign.  I'd love to see this place get into a groove, loosen up, and dump the irritating muzak.

Le Gaigne menu degustation, Nov. 2014 (click to enlarge)

        RESTAURANT LE GAIGNE   2 rue de Vienne, Paris 8  (tel.

  • Try to find a decent restaurant around Gare du Nord, where the Moose and I decided to meet up, on a rainy, Sunday night... that is OPEN.  As a person always up to a challenge, I found this task to be nearly insurmountable.  We settled for the next best thing: a decent restaurant that was open on a rainy, Sunday night near the Gare de l'Est, one metro stop away.  This was the roomy but homey LES ENFANTS PERDUS, which was probably something like the fourth restaurant this year where I've eaten with the word 'enfants' in the name, ironically, because they don't even like children in Paris.  But there we were, feasting on a bottle of Morgon Thevenet (35€), dorade, sole meuniere, cote de veau , and a cafe gourmand.  It wasn't like fantastic, but it was filling and enjoyable and worth a return visit.  Dinner for two, with wine, came to 95.60€, minus one dessert, which the Moose typically foregos in order to maintain his buff shape.  And let me tell you, the night we dined we were rewarded with an amazing soundtrack over the speaker system - obscure garage stuff, 60s classics, some jazz.  It's rare to hear background music when dining in a decent restaurant in Paris, and even rarer to hear good music, but at least on that one rainy night in early November, it was a real treat, especially for a music fanatic like myself.
          LES ENFANTS PERDUS   9 rue des Recollets, Paris 10 (tel.

  • Co. and I always seem to have a craving for oysters once November rolls around.  I know, I know, that's not exactly unusual in France.  Although we still intend to make our annual end of year visit to Pleine de Mer, where the oysters can't be beat, we decided to try out the tiny little seafood joint in the 3rd, L'ILOT, which I had heard good things about.  I enjoyed our meal a lot, but it's hardly a venue you would go to with another couple for a lingering, candlelit, quiet dinner.  It's the sort of place I would be popping into a couple times a week if I lived in the neighborhood.  Seated at one of the wooden tables on stools, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal of mozarella poutargue, soupe poisson, oysters no. 3, brochettes espadon, kouign aman, and red wine (77€).   That's about all I remember, but it's another one to add to the list of 'places to go back to next year.'
         L'ILOT  4 rue de la Corder, Paris 3 (tel.

    • The gourmet tapas/open late trend continues in Paris, and I was happy to have had the chance to try out a couple spots that had been on my list for a while - 52 FAUBOURG SAINT DENIS and WILL.  Although both were excellent, I'm perplexed as to why Parisian restaurateurs are so name challenged.  When you have to resort to your street address or first name of your chef (William Pradeleix) to dub your restaurant, you have to wonder why all the creativity has to stop in the kitchen.  But I am being harsh, because after all, you don't eat the name (although it may seem that way when I try to pronounce my French the way a true Parisian might).  Moose and I had a nice time at 52, with our bottle of Chinon (28€), and not so small dishes of espadon, betterave, and saumon, with prices ranging from 8€ to 18€.  As is usually the case in trendy, hip spots like 52, I appeared to have double the age of the typical patron.  The Tuesday night of our visit in early December, 52 was packed and jammed with YOUTH, which always leads me to ponder the question - how can young people afford trendy, quality restaurants in Paris during an economic crisis?  An even better meal was had at the aforementioned WILL.  Meeting up with Co. on a cold, rainy (haven't they all been?) Friday night in mid-December, I had my new Lytros, focus after you shoot camera in tow and I took numerous photos of our meal.  A word of advice - don't buy a Lytros shoot now, focus later camera until the technology improves.  With dim lighting and no flash, there was very little the Lytros software could do to rescue my photos.  So you'll have to go to Will and eat there yourself.  Then you can upload your photos to this blog and I will thank you immensely.  By the way, the clientele at Will were a bit more in the adult age range than 52, and the venue had a more upscale, though still relaxed, feel about it.  We opted for the menu degustation at 45€, which turned out to be not much of an advantage over a la carte, especially for Co., who ended up not getting the dishes she was hoping for.  I liked Will - ahem, the restaurant - a lot and definitely WILL return in 2015 (I couldn't resist).
sample menu, Will (click to enlarge)

                 52 FAUBOURG SAINT DENIS   Paris 10 (no phone, no reservations - arrive early)

                 WILL   75 rue Crozatier, Paris 12  (tel.

  • Just last weekend, Co. and I returned for the first time to Lao Lane Xang 2 in the Chinatown around Tolbiac in the 13th.  We had a decent meal at the heavily Laotian leaning restaurant a couple years ago and vowed to return and order the stuff that was on other customers plates, which looked way, way better than ours, all of which seemed to be some variation of a soup.  So I did some investigating online first, checking out photos that previous patrons had uploaded, and then ordered some of the more appealing looking dishes.  This resulted in one of the more enjoyable meals we had all year.  We started off with a spicy salade de crevettes, seches sechees et nois cajou and laotian crepes, and then moved on to a couple amazing duck dishes.  There are tons of Asian restaurants in Paris, but Lao Lane Xang has defnitely become my go-to venue.  Ask for a table upstairs, but be prepared to rub elbows with your neighbors.
          LAO LANE XANG 2   102, avenue d'Ivry, Paris 13  (tel.

  • Biggest disappointment of 2014: LES MAGNOLIAS, RIP.  You have read my praises ad nauseum for one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Les Magnolias, just outside of Paris in Le Perreux-sur-Marne.  Well, when Co. and I returned there last late Spring, we could feel that something was different from the get-go.  The place was nearly filled at 7:30 pm, which was really, really odd, because usually, we'd be the first to arrive and action didn't start to pick up until around 9 pm.  If we had been more observant, we would have noticed that chef/owner extraordinaire
    Jean Chauvel's name was no longer on the canopy at the entrance.  We were greeted at our table by Madame Chauvel, who explained that she and her husband had only a short time earlier suddenly sold their restaurant and have decided to open up something new eventually on the west side of Paris (she was only there that night to give some assistance and advice to the new staff).  The name may be the same, but without Chef Chauvel in the kitchen, a decline in quality is nearly guaranteed.  And that's what we found - the meal was good, but merely a watered down version of the Magnolias we came to love . . . and at the same (rather elevated) prices.  This is a really sad turn of events because, man, we really loved what the Chauvels had going in Le Perreux.  Hopefully, they'll move on to bigger and better horizons at a new establishment.  I'll keep you posted, or vice versa, if you beat me to the punch.
New Year's 2015 resolutions:  1.  become more conversational on blog.  2.  get readers to contribute - that means you - if you don't comment, what fun is it? (just click the 'commentaire' link below).  3.  share some personal recipes/dishes (though I'm no expert, I like to eat and much of what I eat I cook).  4.  replace my Lytros camera - it's cool, but the photos are garbage.  Happy new year.

samedi 1 novembre 2014

Bistro Urbain - No Tricks, Just Treats

There's something about eating by the window in Paris 10 on Halloween night, watching the ghouls, goblins,and witches strolling up and down rue du Faubourg Saint Denis - it all seems so, how do I say, sort of normal?  A short four-minute walk from the Gare de l'Est, you know you're already in dicey territory, but during an extended first-course chat with co-owner/brother Alexandre Urbain- actually, it was more Co. doing the chatting while I was nibbling on my warm slices of baguette and sipping a decent St. Nicolas Bourgueil - we learned that however seedy or perversely diverse or eclectic in a wino urinating against the wall kind of way (choose your PC term of preference) the neighborhood may appear, it's actually quite safe, safer than the more touristical 6th, so
Brothers Samuel and Alexandre Urbain
long as you avoid that little courtyard between the restaurant and the station where the unwashed locals are guzzling their cans of Bavaria 8.6 to work up the energy to harass tourists that are unfortunate enough to pass their way.  According to Alexandre, the police are too busy fining him for the occasional patron standing on the narrow terrace with a glass in hand than to actually do something about the obnoxious drunks.  After guiding a young delivery guy back from whence he came after bounding into the restaurant asking if he had come to the right cafe for a quick cup of java, Alexandre, with a forelorn look on his face, informed us, 'that's the 10th!"

The infamous lineup of tables against the wall, but note the 2 singles in the back, hint, hint.

Chef David Kokai mans the open kitchen in the back

Taking advantage of our strategic early arrival before the restaurant filled up so that we could snag that single table in the front between the vitrine and the bar, as opposed to the spatially challenged row of tables against the wall, our conversation extended into the first course, so I don't have any photos to show you.  Co's slab of grilled foie gras on brioche was excellent and creative, my mini-tower of  diced salmon and artichoke less so on both counts.  My palette and interest both woke up with the main course, risotto aux coquillages (palourdes, coques et moules) - the seafood fresh and succulent and the risotto providing a creamy, well-chosen base.  This time it was Co. who was less wowed by her lamb dish, souris d'agneau de 7 heures et coco de Pampol - the shoulder of meat was plentiful and tasty, but Co. isn't a big fan of the white beans that accompanied the meat.  I kept swapping moule-shell-fills of risotto for some spoonfuls of beans to spice up the evening's festivities and neither of us did much complaining, by that point well into the Bourgueil.

My satisfying main dish, shellfish and risotto

Co.'s copious lamb and beans

How many Paris chefs do everything well and then slough off on the dessert, or vice versa?  I'm pleased to say that is not the case at Urbain, where Co. and I partook of two great codas to the otherwise satisfying meal.  For me, the tartelette au pralin et chocolat noir was a no-brainer and it more than lived up to high expectations, despite its rather humble appearance.  Co.'s brioche 'perdue' et creme caramel/beurre sale met the challenge, and with a description like that, how could it go wrong?

Doesn't look like much, but the pralin/chocolat noir tartelette was epic

Ditto for the brioche 'perdue'

So the verdict is definitely favorable for Bistro Urbain.  Don't pay heed to those ridiculous comments on TripAdvisor about how the portions are so tiny and over-priced.  To those misguided remarks, my retort is a short and sweet 'bullshit'.  With the reasonably priced 3-course menu (35€), a minor supplement for one of the dishes (2,20€), a cafe (2€), and the Bourgueil (27€), the 101,20 total was more than correct.  Pretty cool, I thought, was a wine list categorized by price (less than 35€, less than 45€, less than 60€).  Never saw that before in Paris.  Your evening may not be as colorful on a non-Halloween evening, but you should come away from Bistro Urbain happy enough not to mind the underside of Paris on the walk back to the station.

103 rue du Faubourg Saint Denis
75010 Paris
tel. 01 42 46 32 49

samedi 27 septembre 2014

Le Servan - In With A Bang, Out With A Whimper

The nondescript facade of Le Servan, a converted coffee bar in the animated 11th belies a terrific, popular bistro, where Co. and I enjoyed an Indian summer Friday night dinner.  Sisters Katia and Tatiana Levha's hotspot features an ever-changing daily menu with Asian/French flair and the two sport hefty pedigrees in their kitchen bios.  Like nearly all the Parisian neo-bistrots, this one is small, but not as small as the 20-seater claimed on other sites.  One diner-like booth, several square tables, and a 4-seater bar can cram at least 30 for each of the two nightly servings.  The original hand-painted ceilings left intact, some mirrors, and a lot of windows facing the busy intersection of Chemin Vert and St. Maur, the atmosphere is anything but stuffy, and as long as you are able to let the din of a heavy contingent of high-volume American hipsters, gays, and twangy young coeds, you'll be able to concentrate on the food, which bears attention.

No fixed menu this time, instead you can pick from among four categories, zakouski (Greek, don't ask me why other than I guess it's hipper to say zakouski than mise en bouche), entrees, plats, and desserts.  Hedonistic splurgers if anything, we tackled each category, starting off with a bang (yes, the one in this post's title) - Asian-infused miniature shrimps with curry leaves (?) in a sauce reminiscence of Tonkatsu sauce, and a plate of soft, grilled peppers, salted and rolled in olive oil and cumin.  These were fiercely good - I could have taken two or three more helpings of each, along with Servan's excellent bread and wine - a reasonably priced Le Phacomochère (a coarse, spicy La Sorga Languedoc 37€), and this would have been one of my best meals of the year.  I'm really curious how another zakouski option - bulots and piments - was conjured.

Zakouski 1: tiny shrimps, 9€ (click to enlarge this or any of the other photos you see here)

Zakouski 2: peppers, 6€ - you eat these with your fingers, no one will mind

If the starters were superb, the entrees were excellent, a ceviche de lieu jaune (my favorite) and a calamar, pea pods, and cucumber dish.

Calamar, pea pods, cucumber 13€

Ceviche de lieu jaune, red onions, cucumber and red berries 12€

If the starters were superb, the entrees were excellent, the plats were pretty good - canard and lotte, both heavy on the cauliflower, respectively, below.

Canard, 24€

Lotte, 25€

If the starters were superb, etc. etc., the shared dessert was a disappointment - a tarte with red fruits was certainly tasty, but fairly pedestrian.  I forgot to take a photo, which I guess is telling - it looked okay, I just wasn't motivated enough to think about shooting it.  And yes, sports fans, we have a common mathematical trend which characterizes many of the bistrots I write about at this site - the negative correlation, characterized by a steady downward slope from initial to final dishes.  Don't get me wrong, at Le Servan, everything was good, just more so at the beginning.  In with a bang, out with a whimper.  Nonetheless, I really liked this place and will definitely be returning.  Apparently, according to our amiable waitress, the loud American bavard is pretty typical at Le Servan during weekends, so you've been warned.

32 rue St. Maur
75011 Paris
tel: 01 55 28 51 82
Advice: reserve about one week in advance, especially for Friday or Saturday nights.

Looking out Le Servan's window on a nice Friday evening